When we told people we were going to Victoria, British Columbia, nearly everyone asked, “Are you going to The Butchart Gardens?” Indeed, it's hard to say that you've really visited Victoria if you haven't seen its world-famous Gardens. But, is it a good choice for families?
The Butchart Gardens has nearly one million visitors each year, and summer is the busiest season. By late morning, bus loads of tourists filled The Gardens on the June day we visited, so get there right at 9 am or visit during the off-season to avoid crowds.
It probably wasn't your kids' idea to visit The Butchart Gardens. Nevertheless, The Butchart Gardens makes it easy and fun to bring your children with you. Admission for children ages 5-12 is just $3 and younger children get in free! The gardens are the right size for a leisurely visit and it's difficult to get lost for long. I recommend that you establish a meeting point – like the pig fountain in the Piazza – in case your family becomes separated.
Here are six fun activities for families at The Butchart Gardens.
Give your kids the camera
I handed over my DSLR camera to my children (ages 8 and 11) soon after we arrived at The Butchart Gardens, and we took turns with it during our visit. Some of the photos in this post are theirs.
The Butchart Gardens is a good place for kids to learn and practice photography skills, whether in the Rose Garden, Japanese Garden or Sunken Garden, which were our favorites. There is beauty in every direction, so they're likely to bring home some fun photos, no matter what.
The Rose Carousel is a can't miss, all-weather activity for families. It is a newer carousel with a classic look and a delightful array of hand-carved wooden animals. My 8-year-old son ran for the orca whale when we stepped through the gate. The Rose Carousel costs $2 per ride.
Family Discovery Walk
The Gardens are stroller-friendly, and not too large for young children to walk on their own. There are lots of colorful flowers, fountains, bridges, stepping stones and other fun features that children are likely to enjoy. If you'd like a way to engage your children even more, get the free Family Discovery Walk guide, which encourages young children to draw pictures and answer questions as they explore The Gardens. You'll probably learn a lot from it too. Pick up a guide at the Visitor Center or print it here.
The Butchart Gardens is open every day of the year. Victoria has the mildest climate in Canada and The Butchart Gardents doesn't get a lot snow and frost in the winter. Indoor gardens and greenhouses are opened to the public only during the winter and the garden is illuminated with colored lights throughout the Christmas season.
Ice skating at The Butchart Gardens is a fun winter activity for families. You can bring your own skates, or rent them at The Gardens. Helmets and wrist-guards are available for loan.
Fireworks and Concerts
Disney helped design the 30-minute fireworks show at The Butchart Gardens, so you know it's a winner. You can catch the choreographed fireworks at nightfall every Saturday night in July and August. Bring a blanket and jackets, and arrive early because this is a popular event. For more tips on making the most of the fireworks at Butchart Gardens, visit their fireworks page here.
Concerts are performed in an open air amphitheater each night in July and August. The artists should be appropriate for all ages and their styles include classic rock, blues, contemporary, classical, folk, jazz and world music. Link to the concert calendar here.
Where to eat
There are two main restaurants at The Butchart Gardens: The Dining Room and The Blue Poppy. I got the impression that The Dining Room is perhaps a little formal and expensive for most families. We dined at The Blue Poppy and were happy with our choice.
The Blue Poppy is an airy and attractive cafeteria-style restaurant, where you can find good-quality and moderately priced salads, sandwiches, entrees and a kids' menu. Locally sourced chicken dishes seem to be a specialty, and that's what most of my family chose.
We had our eye on the Gelateria Benvenuto in the Italian Garden most of the day, and stopped by for gelato just before leaving The Butchart Gardens. Several of the gelatos are made in-house.
Picnic tables can be found on a lawn adjacent to the main parking lot, but not inside The Gardens. It takes only a few minutes to walk to the front gate from anywhere in The Gardens, so it's reasonable to step out for lunch and then re-enter. We did not see many restaurants just outside The Butchart Gardens.
Good to Know
Where: 800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. The Butchart Gardens is about 30 minutes drive north from Victoria or south from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.
When: Year-round. The Butchart Gardens opens at 9 am every day of the year except Christmas Day, when it opens at 1 pm.
How Much: Admission changes seasonally, with the highest cost in the summer (June 15 – September 30). Special events, like concerts and fireworks are included. There is a small additional fee for the carousel and ice skating. Here are the 2015 summer rates, in Canadian dollars:
- Adult (18+): $31.45
- Youth (13-17): $15.75
- Child (5-12): $3.00
- Under 5: FREE
How Long: 2-6 hours
Amenities: dining, gift shops, free parking, wheelchair and stroller accessible, free wheelchair and stroller loans with $10 deposit, dogs are welcome on short leashes
Disclosure: We received complimentary admission to The Butchart Gardens for the purpose of review.
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? Parkside Hotel and Spa is excellent for families or romance and is located within walking distance of many popular attractions. Read my full review here. Check rates at Expedia or TripAdvisor.
Want more fun things to do in Victoria? Read my tips for visiting the Royal BC Museum.
Does your child need a passport to visit Canada? It depends. Find out what you need to know in this post.